Waterway activities booming as people seek socially distanced fun

With lockdown lifting across the country, people have been searching for ways to get outside and enjoy the Great British Summer.

aerial view of Grand Union Canal lock Aerial view of Grand Union Canal lock

It seems that the nation’s waterways are the answer, with angling, paddle sports, and towpath use showing record numbers as people seek socially distanced ways to have fun and a surge in bookings of canal boat holidays for those looking for a UK staycation.

Huge increase in traffic

In addition to holiday hire boat companies reporting strong bookings, we have seen a huge increase in traffic to its angling website pages, with visits in May and June up 118% on the previous year, and an astonishing 6,750% growth in people looking at its Beginner’s Guide to Angling. This reflects statistics from the Environment Agency which reported a rise of over 230% in fishing licences between 13 May 2020 (when restrictions were lifted) and 9 June, compared to the start of the year to the end of March (GOV, 2020).

Similarly, interest in paddle sports is growing, with a 145% increase in visits to the Trust’s pages in May and June. The biggest jump was on the ‘Paddleboarding for Beginners’ page, which saw growth of 264%. The industry body, British Canoeing, has reported a record growth in participation, with membership numbers up 23% compared to last year (British Canoeing, 2020).

The numbers of people discovering their local towpaths soared over lockdown, as they provided the ideal place to get a breath of fresh air and connect with nature. Our towpath counters show that people are continuing to visit, with places across the country still showing increases of up to 240% for the week of 19 June – 5 July compared to pre-lockdown averages.

People are itching to get outside

Jon Horsfall, our head of customer service support, said: “After being cooped up inside for months, people are itching to get outside and enjoy the summer, in a socially responsible way. Canal boats holidays are prefect for families looking for a staycation, whilst fishing is a famously solitary sport and our canals and rivers offer plenty of peaceful places where anglers can get away from it all. And if you’re looking for a fun, socially distanced way to get active, not much can beat canoeing, kayaking or paddleboarding!

“We know that research shows being by the water makes people healthier and happier, and it’s fantastic that so many people are exploring all the different ways of getting a dose of mental and physical waterside wellbeing. The waterways played a hugely important role connecting communities to green spaces during lockdown, and these latest figures show how much people value them as they continue to explore on or by the water.”

Let's Fish

For those who have always fancied trying their hand at angling, the Trust’s popular Let’s Fish events will be restarting in late July (subject to prevailing conditions). Aimed at lapsed adults, new adults, or children aged seven and over, these free events take place across England and Wales and provide all the tools to secure the perfect catch. Find out more at: https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/fishing/lets-fish